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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: Virginia Edition

QB Michael Rocco threw for 311 yards in UVA's 43-19 week one win over Richmond. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
QB Michael Rocco threw for 311 yards in UVA's 43-19 week one win over Richmond. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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As Penn State heads to Charlottesville to take on the Cavaliers of Virginia, we here at BSD turned to an authority on the 'Hoos to gain some insight about the Lions' week two opponent. Brian Leung is the manager of SBNation's UVA blog, Streaking the Lawn, and was gracious enough to answer our questions. Be sure to head over there to read my answers to his queries, too.

Black Shoe Diaries: In just his second year at UVA, Mike London reversed the downward spiral towards mediocrity that characterized the final years of the Al Groh regime. What did he do differently that's hastened this rebuild?

Streaking the Lawn: Where do I begin? Mike London is drastically different from Al Groh. Whereas Groh was short with the media and didn’t really play the "charismatic" card much, London embraces the media, seizes on the opportunity to make public appearances, and has taken great strides to improve UVA’s image. Taking Spring practices on the road when he first got here, and therefore being able to showcase the team to the talent-rich Tidewater / 757 area, was ingenious. Setting up TV deals to document the "Building of a Program" was ingenious. Beating Virginia Tech in their own backyard was… well, that hasn’t happened yet. But at the rate London is going, it should be. Soon.

London’s ability to be extremely appealing to players is also a huge plus. They can relate to him. He’s been there. And with that in mind, they can buy into his system a lot quicker than they could with Groh.

BSD: During the Groh years, UVA at its best was one of those perennial 7-8-or-9-win teams that there seem to be, like, a dozen of in the ACC every year. What's the ceiling moving forward with London?

StL: "I see skies of bluuue, and clouds of whiiite…" Seriously. There’s no ceiling here. Since London took over at the helm, UVA has gotten multiple Top-25 recruiting classes, which means that last year’s marked improvement was just a preview of what he could be doing with a bunch of players he recruited, and even more promising, a bunch of players who were highly recruited. Playing in the ACC Championship Game, though likely not this year, is right around the corner (we were one win shy last year), and a BCS Bowl isn’t too far away after that.

BSD: Michael Rocco won the QB job in a battle with Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, then came out and torched Richmond in the opener. Following hi uninspiring sophomore campaign, what can UVA fans expect from Rocco?

StL: UVA fans can expect tremendous growth as compared to last year. Last year, Rocco beat out the competition for the starting role. This year, he did it again, but this time against SEC-worthy talent. Rocco got the job done last year. I’m putting my full faith behind him to keep it up, but I might be in the minority as compared to the crowd who is screaming for Sims to jump in there the second Rocco starts slipping. Sims has a bigger arm and possibly a better vision on the field, but Rocco knows the routes and the playbook better than anyone else. Unfortunately, it’s easier to pick up one of those skills as the season progresses than the other, and that’s not looking good for Rocco.

There's plenty more, after the jump.

BSD: In his preview of the 2012 season, Bill Connelly wrote that the UVA offense starts with do-everything back Perry Jones. What makes Jones so important to the Hoos, and what can Penn State do to neutralize him?

StL: What can’t Perry Jones do, seriously? Part of it is his compact frame. He’s small, which might lead you to believe he can’t run as fast. But he’s SO powerful. So think of him like a cannon. Compact. Dense. Powerful. A benefit of his compact frame is that he can be relatively tough tackle, and similarly, he’s pretty good at squirming his way out of a bad hold. Honestly though, I’d be less concerned about him and more concerned about our secondaries. Seeing the inexperience on Penn State’s secondaries, I wouldn’t be surprised if we took this game to the air (like I suspect you will do to us) and try to get the job done that way.

BSD: I know they're an FCS team, but Richmond ran for 28 yards on 21 carries in the opener, which, you know, holy crap. Is the UVA D that good, despite losing some of their best run stuffers and pretty much all their defensive backs from a year ago?

StL: Yeah no, Richmond is an FCS team. We lost a lot of talent on defense last year, and I continue to have lots of question marks on this front. Richmond is not good. While we might be inexperienced on the line and, well, pretty much everywhere else on D, there is at least some improvement on this front – like for example, our players appear to have learned how to wrap their arms around a player when attempting a tackle. This, I believe, may result in increased success in any such tackle attempt. That said, if we’re comparing our rush defense with our passing D, then yes, you’re right. Our rush defense looks awesome.

BSD: Has it quite set in that UVA is listed a double-digit favorite over Penn State? Because it sure hasn't from this vantage point. How's this game going to go?

StL: Yeah, that’s still pretty surprising that this is the case. I read on one of Penn State’s forums over the summer (because I’m a masochist) that people were shocked any PSU fan could be worried about playing a team like Virginia, because, after all, aren’t they on the same level as Ohio? I took some offense to that. In any event, if you’re going to make me bet (I wouldn’t dream of gambling on collegiate athletics), I’d pick Penn State to cover. I think Virginia’s going to grit out the win, but I’d be surprised to see a double-digit deficit there.

Thanks again to Brian for helping out, and don't forget to visit Streaking the Lawn, to see what I had to say about his questions on Penn State, as well as for all your UVA news before and after kickoff.